Laughing At The Notch

The word went out last night: “Trails aren’t perfect but much better than they were! We need a few people to snowshoe Moose Alley so I can get the snowmobile up there. Jim is going to snowshoe some tomorrow and the more it is packed down the sooner I can groom up there. 😁 Both bridges are done. Still waiting on the snow roller.”

Nothing like a challenge and so I immediately contacted a few peeps and asked if they were in. They didn’t hesitate and we agreed to meet at the trailhead at 11am. After all, our services were needed.

We’d first explored this property a year ago and fell in love immediately and have returned once or twice since, but not at all in the last six or seven months. Therefore . . . it was about time. Ah, but what is time?

It took us at least a half hour to move beyond the farmhouse, for every three feet we needed to stop and chat–asking each other questions and offering suggestions about a Bugs in Winter course we’re enrolled in and trying to better understand.

But . . . another reason for loving winter soon presented itself, first in the form of snowshoe hare prints, the toes actually showing in present snow conditions.

The print left behind by a mature White-tailed Deer measures about two inches across, while a Moose print is about 4.5 inches. This one at three inches, with a deep depth in the snow, spoke to us as a youngster of the latter.

And right behind that a bed. A Moose bed. The smooth, rounded edge indicated the mammal’s back, with its legs folded below (left side of the photo) and head just left of the beech sapling.

Scat and urine presented themselves in a variety of spots including filling individual prints.

As we followed the track, we noticed another design in the snow that took a moment to interpret for it didn’t present a pattern that bespoke a bird or mammal.

Examining the Red Maple sapling that dangled over the design in the snow, however, solved the mystery–and we chuckled as the story began to make sense. In the act of dining on fresh buds, the Moose broke the branch, which consequently dangled below, and wrote its own story in the snow.

Slipping further off trail, (sorry Becky, but we couldn’t resist) Moose tracks led to another bed and we realized by its size and the size of related prints, that this was a bigger animal. Mama perhaps? Again, we could see how she bedded down, her legs tucked under as is the typical fashion.

A bit further on and another, deeper Moose track. Notice how far down the animal’s foot sank in comparison to my snowshoe. Yikes.

A tramp through the woods and we found the bed of a larger Moose. Actually, there were two in this area, and maybe we missed a third, but the point is that there’s an active clan in these woods and our hearts rejoiced.

Finding a scat-filled print shaped like a heart certainly added to our joy and brought more chuckles in the midst of admiration and awe.

Suddenly, though there was nothing sudden about it for it took us about 2.5 hours to reach this point, we found ourselves standing beside Moose Bog–and scanned the landscape for an anomaly, hoping beyond hope that we might spot a family member seeking sun. That wasn’t to be.

Despite the lack of an actual sighting of a Moose, we were tickled to know that we snowshoed in their recent presence and so we posed and said, “Cheese.” Can you see our smiles?

In the same spot we looked for a species we first encountered in this very area last year. And found it upon the very same structures–a Speckled Alder and American Beech. It’s a sooty mold known scientifically as Scorias spongiosa or, my favorite and drum roll please . . . Beech Aphid Poop-Eater: A fungus that consumes the scat (frass in insect terms) of a Beech Blight Aphid (not the same as Beech Scale Insect that causes Beech Bark Disease). We’ve more to learn, but were regaled with the opportunity to spot it in the same spots again.

Our insect hunt included a Winter Firefly, some Pine Sawfly Cocoons, these former Gypsy Moth pupating cases and a few unknowns.

This tiny cocoon attached to two pine needles was one such find. With further study I trust we’ll confidently be able to state its name and origin. Lots of further study. We have so much to learn and appreciate the ability to notice, bounce questions off each other, and wonder.

There’s so much to wonder about . . . and to think we’d only explored one trail in the midst of many. When we began our exploration at 11am, I told Pam and Pam (aka Pam Square) that I needed to hit the road by 4pm in order to take a phone call at 5. Exactly five hours later we made our way. back to the trailhead. And as you can see, the sun was heading over the hills.

At last, back to the farm we were, home of among others, two Norwegian Fjord horses named Marta and Kristoff blankety, blank, blank, he being the younger of the two.

Marta looked a bit bored with us and ready to fall asleep. We noted her trimmed bangs and longer mane.

Young Kristoff was more ready to pose, his bangs longer than groomed mane.

He seemed to understand our adventure–sticking his tongue out as if to comment on some of our questions and interpretations.

And laughing at other times. It’s OK, Kristoff, we laughed a lot as well as we explored the land you know as home at Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Chatham, New Hampshire, just over the Maine line.

Thanks be to Becky and Jim for sharing their land with all of us. There’s so much more to it, but we love taking the slow tour.

Today's Mystery Tour

The message arrived in the form of a text: “Meet me at North Fryeburg Fire Station at 10:30. I’ll drive.”

And so we did. Upon our meeting we realized we’d each left some gear home, but between us, much like we share a brain, we shared resources that would benefit us along the trail. The back of the Subaru packed with snowshoes and hiking packs, up the road we rode, one of us driving while the other two anticipated the near future.

Beside two Norwegian Fjord horses named Marta and Kristoff blankety, blank, blank, (cuze one of their owners couldn’t remember his full name), our driver did park.

Before us, a groomed trail presented itself–leading to infinity and beyond or so it seemed.

And within a mailbox, tucked into plastic sleeves, maps and track charts were available.

Rather than take either, we took photos of the map; and knew that we had a set of David Brown’s Trackards for our trail finds.

We were still by the road and farmhouse, when we noticed sap buckets tied to Sugar Maples and realized that the season had begun.

One of our good fortunes, and we had many as the day progressed, was to stumble upon Jim, the owner of the property who explained to us that the sap had only just started to flow and he had 200 trees tapped. Sap season can be fickle, but we hope the good fortune his land shared with us could be returned many times over in the form of gallons of syrupy sweetness.

Up the trail we finally tramped, stopping frequently to take in as many treasures as possible as we tried to gain a better understanding of the world that surrounded us.

One item that drew our attention was the thick twig and dome-shaped bud of an ash. Its corky leaf scar below the buds was filled with a smiley face of dots we knew as bundle scars–where sugar and water had flowed between last year’s leaf and twig/trunk.

By the shape of the leaf scar, its bud dipping into the cup and creating the form of a C, we knew its name: White Ash. Had it been a Green Ash, the bud would have sat directly atop the leaf scar, which would have looked like a D turned on its side.

I keep trying to come up with a mnemonic to remember these two species and may have just discovered such: C = cup = white cup of coffee; D = hmmmm? So much for that thought. Stick with C and if it doesn’t look like that, chances are it’s a D.

We paused beside many buds, examining them all for their idiosyncrasies, but equally prevalent on the trail were the tracks left behind by so many critters. Deer, snowshoe hare, birds of varying sizes, chipmunk, red squirrel, and the list went on. Red fox were part of the forest mix. And coyote as well. We so wanted bobcat and several times tried to convince ourselves that such was the case, but indeed, our further study made us realize it was no more than a wish.

We also wanted porcupine tracks and bear claw trees to make themselves known. We searched and searched for all three: bobcat, porcupine, and bear claw marks, but found none.

What we did discover, however, was the namesake of the trail upon which we tramped. My, what deep impressions it had left.

Perhaps the creator was Sasquatch?

No indeed. Where it had traveled upon the trail we followed before it traversed cross country, it left discernible prints that gave another sense of its size and we talked about the fact that its stomach would have been at our eye level.

By the crescent-shaped halves and dew claw marks, we knew that somewhere in the forest beyond moved a moose. Actually, by the number of tracks we saw on the trail, we thought that at least two had traveled this way.

And directly above we could see that it had dined, for the tags on the Red Maples where buds had once been bespoke its breakfast source.

At last we came to Moose Bog and briefly let our minds slip into seasons to come and offerings yet to be, but quickly pulled ourselves back into the moment and reveled in the fact that beside the sign was a sign left behind by the one for whom the bog was named.

The impressions were so deep that we decided to measure them.

Fifteen inches. We had barely sunk in an inch or two on our snowshoes, so the moose’s prints lead us to realize the immensity of its weight.

While in the same area, an abnormal growth on Speckle Alder gave us pause. At first glance, we recalled the fluffy colonies of Woolly Alder Aphids and wondered if what we saw was somehow related. A bit of white appeared in the structure, but it didn’t quite match anything we’d seen previously or our understanding.

About twenty feet down the trail, we found it again, this time on an American Beech twig. The curious thing, it only grew on one side.

Upon closer examination, we realized it looked a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within our hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.

It wasn’t until I contacted Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood several hours later that we realized we were on the right track. Anthony is my go-to entomologist and I bug him (pun intended) frequently for identification or explanation. He never fails to reveal some amazing fact.

Today’s find: The Beech Aphid Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. We were thrilled to discover that we were on the right track thinking it was related to aphids, and we knew that ants like to farm them so they’ll secret honeydew, but . . . a poop eater. The natural world just got more otherworldly for us and our wonder will never cease.

Trees continued to attract our attention, but upon the trail were a slew of tracks, the prints of coyote and fox especially decorating the way. And then, and then some coyote scat and pee, the former so full of hair and a selection of the latter at another spot that sent us all staggering from the strong scent.

A bit further on we found an older coyote scat that contained large bone chips. Do you see one in the upper left-hand corner of the specimen?

We also found fox scat filled with hair and seeds, for like coyotes, omnivores are they.

And then, some small, cylindrical shapes within a print.

X marked the spot where the latter scatter crossed its own path.

And then it flew off. Who dat scat? A Ruffed Grouse.

At least five hours after we began our tramp, the farm house finally came into view. And so did Becky, one of the owners. She was actually looking for us for so long had we wandered.

We’d taken a photo of the trail map, as I said earlier, before we set off, but never again did we look at it. No wonder Becky was worried about us. The trail we followed was only eight tenths in length, but because we’d stopped every three steps or so to look at the next best thing, it had taken us five plus hours to complete the loop.

We chuckled again for after meeting up with Becky and reassuring her that we were fine and happy and well (super well and thankful for such was the day and all that her land had offered us), we wondered if she and Jim had made a bet on how long it would take us to travel the last few hundred feet to the road.

There were still things to note, including sap seeping into buckets.

Red maple buds growing more bulbous with age also garnered our focus.

As for our mystery tour: we were treated to the Moose Loop at Notch View Farm on Route 113 in Evans Notch. That would be in North Chatham, New Hampshire.

As we were greeted, our journey ended, with a smile from Kristoff and grins across our faces for the finds we’d discovered, understandings we’d made, and time spent together exploring.

Many, many thanks to Jim and Becky Knowles for sharing their land with all of us, and for Pam K for discovering this treasure and providing the mystery tour. Well done.

PS. Our last few hundred yards took about 25 minutes–who placed the correct bet on our time–Jim or Becky?